We’re thrilled to introduce you to a new member of the Bitches Who Brunch NYC team, Charlotte.
Charlotte, our Baby Bitch in the City, is all about maintaining a healthy lifestyle through the proper balance of brunch, exercise, and cultural exploration. When Charlotte is not combing the city for a new farm-to-table restaurant to try or powering through a Crossfit workout, you can find her conquoring the streets in a cute pair of sneakers: taking in a concert, festival, or one of the latest Chelsea art gallery exhibits.
Ever since I studied abroad in Spain during college, I have had a special appreciation for tapas. Small and simple, tapas are great for those of us who like to try a little bit of everything. Even better, the small plates encourage conversation, as people tend to focus less on the shared assortment than they would their own entrée.
With this in mind, tapas seemed like the perfect option as some girlfriends and I were planning a brunch and much needed catch-up session. It also just so happened I had recently spotted a tapas bar in my neighborhood, El Quinto Pino. Hidden on 24th Street, the restaurant’s opaque windows and demure sign had been beckoning my name since I moved to the neighborhood. I will admit that it looked like a better date locale, but brunch would do.
On Sunday, walking into El Quinto Pino was like traveling back to Spain. Reminiscent of the tapas bars I frequented while living there, the front bar area was snug and intimate; adorned with chalk-scrawled menus, narrow marble counters, and old-fashioned chandeliers. The back seating area was equally charming, offering a nice blend of textures between the white brick walls, macramé-esque tapestry, and assorted wicker, wood, and metal chairs. Throughout the restaurant, narrow windows cast slanted beams of light evenly across the tables creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Meeting my friends in the back, the waiter came over with water and menus within seconds, happy to answer any questions. My friends and I ordered a round of cappuccinos to start and immediately began dishing on life’s latest events while browsing the brunch fare. The assortment of tapas was fairly expansive, including sandwiches (bacatas), fried bites (tapas fritos), and a variety of eggs. After a short debate, we agreed on a collection of tapas — both classic dishes and a few new to our palates.
It took about ten minutes for the first of the tapas to come out, the Nuestras Bravas. The signature dish of fried potatoes was served piping hot, drizzled with spicy aioli and paprika. The starchy morsels were crispy with just the right amount of spice and were a satisfactory beginning to appease our growling stomachs.
Shortly after the potatoes, the rest of our tapas arrived from the kitchen all at once. Spread out evenly across the table, we casually nibbled and tasted our way through them all, continuing to gab about new jobs, upcoming plans, and relationship developments.
The Pan amb Tomaca was one of the first we tried of the group, which consisted of slices of homemade bread toasted to perfection and rubbed with olive oil, sea salt, garlic, and a light tomato salsa. The dish had a nice balance of texture between the crispy bread and fresh tomato, but the overall flavor was a little underwhelming. A few of us went as far as dipping the bread in the leftover aioli from the Nuestas Bravas to give it a little more zing.
Next we sampled the Tortillita de Gamba — shrimp and chickpea wafers. The crispy wafers were served in a delicate paper bag, pressed neatly in ink with El Quinto Pino. For being fried, the wafers were surprisingly light, but the shrimp and chickpea flavors were subtle, and may have gone unnoticed had we not known the ingredients. After a couple of bites I found myself ready to move on to something new.
Next we sampled the Huevos Estrellados — fried eggs, chorizo, and crushed potato chips. Unfortunately, the idea of this crunchy, salty dish was superior to the reality. The strings of chorizo were dry and didn’t have the spicy pop of flavor typical of the cured meat. The chips were even more disappointing, seeming to be straight from a bag of Lay’s. Overall, the presentation made the dish seem like something any of us could have easily prepared ourselves and lacked any strong flavor.
Luckily, our other egg dish, the Pisto Manchego, was a pleasant, tasteful surprise. Poached eggs atop a creamy vegetable stew, the fresh yolk melted into the squash, tomato, pepper, and onion base. Perfectly seasoned with garlic, salt, and simmered vegetables, this hearty stew was by far the favorite tapa of the group.
As the girls and I picked at the last of the potatoes, we decided dessert was an acceptable idea, as we still didn’t feel totally satisfied. It only took a second to navigate the menu and land on the churros, which the waiter affirmed was an excellent choice.
Served straight from the fryer and paired with a homemade dulce de leche sauce, this was one point in the meal where the focus was less on the conversation and more on the food. Plunging into the sauce and taking the first bite, I was in pure bliss as the warm mixture of oil, sugar, and salt dissolved together into a smooth oasis of sweetness. The hot, crispy exterior was dusted with the perfect amount of cinnamon and sugar and gave way to a cushiony, warm center. We all couldn’t get over how good these sweet, sugary tendrils were.
Capping off our meal with this pleasing dessert made up for some of the prior mediocre fare, but in general, there were few standouts of what we sampled from the menu. That being said, the friendly wait staff and charming home-like atmosphere would be convincing enough on their own to go back. That, and the churros of course.
The Bitches say: B. Great ambiance and attentive service. The brunch fare was hit or miss, but would recommend exploring for drinks and dessert if nothing else.
El Quinto Pino
401 W 24th St.
New York, NY 10001
El Quinto Pino serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.